Statewide drug court can save money, lives

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2003

State Auditor Phil Bryant wants to get one thing clear: The proposal for a statewide drug court does not mean going easy on offenders.

&uot;This is not a hug-a-thug program,&uot; he said this week.

It would be easy to brand the idea of a drug court as being &uot;soft on crime&uot; &045; until you look at the results of programs like one in the nearby 14th Circuit, where so many of the participants stay clean and sober, even those who have been arrested time and again on drug offenses.

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The 14th Circuit drug court offers Mississippi &045; which is considering implementing such a program statewide &045; a pilot program of sorts.

That program, which consists of four phases, has been successful under the leadership of Judge Keith Starrett.

A statewide drug court makes sense, first of all for the most practical of reasons: It would save money. Bryant estimates it would save Mississippi $5.4 million on the first 500 participants alone.

But a drug court also offers an opportunity for drug offenders to make their way back to being productive members of society. That doesn’t mean the program is a &uot;soft&uot; solution &045; ask any of the people who are participating now. The strict structure of the program helps ensure they will be successful.

We urge lawmakers to establish a drug court system statewide.

So far, the state Senate has passed a bill that would put the Administrative Office of Courts in charge of such a program. The bill now is pending in the House. One concern is that the bill provides no money for the statewide system &045; but Bryant has pointed out that federal funds are available.

With the right strategy for implementation and funding, this is a program that can save money &045; and save many Mississippians.